Training Motivation During COVID-19: Interview with Michelle Vesterby

In the age of COVID-19, most athletes have seen their race calendars evaporate and their training facilities close. With health and safety the biggest priorities, how are athletes keeping motivated, active, and connected with their communities? We spoke with Michelle Vesterby to get some tips.

A lot of athletes have very regimented training schedules, and when competition dates change (or are unknown), it throws that schedule off a lot. What are some tips for readjusting a hard training segment, for example, or a taper, when competition calendars change?

It’s a big challenge, but I’m just focusing on staying as fit as possible. I want to come out of this as a better athlete, and now I have the chance to work on the small things at home, the small details in my technique. I think people will come through this having learned a lot about themselves – I think we will actually see faster, stronger, better athletes as the outcome. I’m so focused now – I’m usually really social, I like to train with my friends, but now it’s just “go out and get the job done”. So I’ve adjusted by being more efficient than I was before, in fact. Normally I hated the gym! But now it’s fun to go down in the basement where I’ve set up some exercises, I bring my son Marcus, but I get some training in that I wouldn’t have done before.

But for everyone, it’s really important try to take things one step at a time, one day at a time, and keep focused. Right now I still have Hawai’i in my calendar (I hope!), but nothing before that. Like I said, I try to stay as fit as possible, and if something opens up I’m ready to kick some ass!

The mental preparation needed for major races is also intense – what advice can you give athletes who were looking forward to a particular race, and now aren’t sure when (or if) they’ll be competing? What keeps you mentally focused and positive?

That’s the problem right now – that we don’t know. For an athlete like myself, we like structure, we want to know when and where and how to prepare, and we don’t have that now.

To keep that mental focus, it’s really important to look at the short term, take it step by step, take it by the minute. I do this when I do an Ironman: I break the race up into small pieces and go step by step. If I focused on the whole thing I would fall apart mentally. But I break it into small pieces, and go step by step. Maybe we all need to break it up even more than normal to get through this.

It’s challenging for everyone right now of course, and the situation is different all over the world. At the moment I can still get outside to do my running and riding, so I’m very lucky, very privileged. And right now the sun is shining, so it makes it even easier to go outside! But I have prepared my house for lockdown – my trainer is ready, I’m lucky that I have a treadmill in the house. We have created a training room in our basement - I see a lot of people doing that on social media. But you also don’t need to get formal exercise. Just staying active is so important. That can be doing work around the house, playing games with your family, just getting up and moving is the most important thing for your body and your mind. I’ve started baking! Only healthy cakes, of course.

This is the time of year when we’re all looking forward to getting off the trainer and back outside, often for group rides – and for most of us, that’s not happening. What are your favourite techniques to keep things interesting on the trainer, or while training solo?

We have all of these visual training programs that we can do now, like Zwift, and people can motivate you a lot. But it’s also important to make a program for yourself. Change up the focus a bit each time, do a different workout. A few hours on the trainer can be a long time, but if you break it up and have a program for yourself it’s easier to keep it interesting and keep going. And giving yourself a small treat after your session is great too – food is always a good motivator!

Like many people, I have my young son at home now too, so that changes the schedule. I see myself posting a lot of stuff on social media and it’s all about Marcus! He’s ten months old, so right now I really have to structure around him – I will play with him then when he takes a nap I can go outside for a ride. When I do my gym work he’s there. But I do this for him - he’s starting to understand what I’m doing and that motivates me. And it motives me to be efficient. I want to do everything with him but I also want to do my job. So I go out do my job, and then I come back and I’m 100% mom afterward. But that’s about mental focus as well – because of the constraints right now I’m more mentally focused, and I work to get the job done.

Michelle is adhering to all social distancing directives in her region. For many areas, staying indoors is the best precaution.